Ruth Mary Chipperfield on Jewellery and Creativity: Part II

Read Part I here

Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Ruth of Ruth Mary Jewellery! As you’ll see, this section started out a bit unusually: Ruth and I discovered that we’d both grown up playing an instrument, I the harp and she the piano, so we talked a bit about exploring our creativity in a non-professional setting and about the (im)practicalities of playing a huge instrument! After that, Ruth took me on an exclusive tour of her workspace, discussing how she brings her elegant designs to life and how she keeps her collections sustainable. Enjoy! 

So you play a classical instrument at an amateur level, like me – what are the pieces that you enjoy the most?

It’s funny because there used to be some very complex pieces which I liked playing because of the sense of achievement that came with being able to execute them, but I didn’t really appreciate them as a listener. Recently I’ve begun to enjoy music that years ago I dismissed as too simple, like Einaudi’s pieces – it’s such simple music but it just speaks! 

I agree – I was a bit snobbish about contemporary instrumental music until a while ago, but now I’ve really begun to appreciate the eloquence of its simplicity. 

Exactly, and I’m convinced that a Grade 2 or 3 student would not be able to play these pieces properly – not because of any technical difficulties per se but because of the experience and sensitivity you need to bring to them.

I actually had the same thought about Eric Satie a while ago – his Gymnopédies are very easy to play, technically speaking, but you really need to bring a certain emotion and sensitivity to it.

It’s the same with a piece I’m really enjoying at the moment, the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven – I love playing it but I can’t get it perfectly right because I don’t want to practice it constantly and ruin it for myself! Again it’s a one of those works that’s really easy but really hard at the same time.  

It’s so cool that we have this random thing in common! So how did you get into music anyway?

I’m actually qualified to diploma – I did a performance diploma when I was 19 and I’ve taught piano on and off since I was about 16, but the problem is that I can be very driven in everything so I find it challenging to work with pupils or parents who don’t really grasp the importance of regular practice. Some people are really good at inspiring pupils whereas I struggle to teach people who don’t have some sort of aspirational goal – when they do have one I can definitely help them with it though! I started playing when I was five, did it for a few years, stopped for a while and then started again when I was about 13-14 before doing my diploma. I play quite a lot during the day – the advantage of a piano is that you don’t have to tune it constantly like a harp! 

Yup, 47 strings which have to all be tuned individually – not great!

Exactly! I actually wanted to have a go at playing the harp at one point, but the more I think about it the more I’m put off by the impracticality of it and also the amount of time it would take to get to a good level.

I definitely agree on the first point but not necessarily the second – the piano and the harp essentially use the same principle, which is one note per key/string, right hand doing melody, left hand doing accompaniment, so I don’t think it would be too difficult a transition! It might require a bit more coordination with the feet, just because that’s what you need to change keys, but that’s it really. 

It is a beautiful instrument! Let me know if you ever do end up playing again.

I’d really love to! And as you said you don’t necessarily have to play it professionally to enjoy it, it can just be something really nice to incorporate into your day. But now let’s get back to jewellery, if you don’t mind – could you maybe give me a little tour of your workspace?

Absolutely! So this is some of the lace that I hand-stitched which will then be recreated in metal – here is a completed silver version. This is a bench peg, which is the focal point of a jeweller’s workshop, and this is my saw. I have to be careful to keep it taut enough but not too much, so I will regularly pluck it and search for the perfect vibration – which is exactly like tuning a harp string! Then I’ve got my leather pouch underneath which catches all the bullion – whenever I saw bits off they end up falling here and then I recover them and put them in little pots depending on the material – silver, platinum, and so forth. 

And are you then able to re-use the scraps for future pieces?

Not really – they have to be processed in a specific way because they’ll have bits of dust on them and so forth, so I sell them back to the company I bought the metal from and they process them and turn them back into usable material. In the UK about 95% of silver is recycled anyway – you can get eco-silver which is 100% recycled, but I don’t personally think it makes much of a difference because all you’re doing is separating out the few bits that aren’t recycled which will then go into a different batch anyway, so you’re not actually changing the structure of the process. With fair-trade gold, on the other hand, you are working with completely different mines on a much smaller scale, the number of people involved and employed is much higher than in the big mines, and there is far less chemical leaching, so you’re actually making a much bigger difference than just shifting batches of metal around into different lots! The slight downside of recycling is that these scraps do have a tendency to end up everywhere – I found one in my salad the other day!

No way!

Yes! I have no idea how that happened, to be honest. 

It’s a good job you didn’t eat it! So what are these other tools?

Here I have various files, soldering equipment, pliers and various polishing tools for different finishes… and I’ve got a chocolate fondue pot which I’ve put acid in and works really well for this purpose! It’s got a special timer on it – a tea candle that only burns for a certain amount of hours so I know when it’s ready. I’m never gonna use it to make chocolate again though! 

That’s very crafty! And what does the acid do?

When I heat something up with my torch to make it more malleable it goes dark, so I drop it into acid afterwards to turn it white again – it does take a while though, hence the timer! 

I couldn’t help but notice that your work desk itself is beautiful – is it custom-made?

Yes – it was actually made by my uncle! It’s a very classic jeweller’s table with the traditional cutout – modern ones don’t always have this but I really like it. However, any jeweller’s table will have some kind of drawer or pouch underneath just because you end up dropping so much material and tools. Then I have a bit of a cutout on the right hand side, because being right-handed my elbow kept knocking against the table!   

And the bench peg is where the magic happens?

Yep! Every jeweller’s bench peg looks slightly different depending on the kind of work they do. Once I’ve got the saw nice and taut I lubricate the back with some beeswax and get to work! 

*

Thank you so much to Ruth for inviting me to her workshop and talking me through how she makes metal come to life – again I highly recommend checking out her website and maybe treating yourself or a loved one to a piece or two! I’ve loved branching out and interviewing people who practice different arts and crafts and hope to keep doing it in the future 🙂 happy holidays and see you in the new year!

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